Daily movement


A problem:

We're built for motion, but we imprison ourselves in desks. Human bodies are designed to regularly move and exert themselves. Human brains seem designed to work best when their bodies are being used. When we've been moving, we're happier and healthier. We have more energy to draw on, and yet (somewhat counter-intuitively) we're calmer, too.

But schools aren't built for motionGym class and recess are sometimes seen as add-ons to the school day — ones that, thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, have become rarer in some schools.

Our basic plan:

Two to three times a day, rain or shine, students will go outside and move! Playing organized games, and engaging in free-form play, they should return a little winded.

And inside the classroom, students will have opportunities to exert their bodies in more limited ways: balancing, stretching, and doing muscle-building.

Our goals:

Our school can help kids be fitter, happier, and calmer than they would be otherwise. The exercise they regularly get allows them to be more awake in the classroom, and think more clearly.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

Kids who, come sundown, will fall asleep very quickly.

Some specific questions:

  • "Rain or shine"? Am I going nuts here? Obviously there are some weather constraints. (When we have blizzards and hurricanes, kids should stay inside!) What are the practical limits? (I do like the idea, however, of having kids go outside in the rain. It's refreshing — it's wonderful! Can we have kids just store a change of clothes at the school?)
  • What are the secrets for having gym class not become terrible?
  • What list of outside games and sports should we compose?
  • What inside activities should we have? A balance beam? A trampoline? A climbing wall?
  • Are there any generally-agreed-upon goals that we should be shooting for? (For example, I ran across the phrase "kids should have 60 minutes of exercise each day!" Is that an Officially Thing?)
  • The group PE4Life seems to be a leader in the "make gym amazing" community. Should we approach them for a formal partnership?



A problem:

Our minds have minds of their own.

Think of our minds are dumb, sometimes-raging elephants, barely under control of the puny riders ("us") sitting on top of them. Most of the time, in our school, we whisper to the elephants — giving them curriculum that will interest them. (In fact, we consider "School for Elephants" as the name of this blog.)

But sometimes, we just have to take control. Meditation is a way to do that — to calm the elephant.

Our basic plan:

Kids meditate throughout the day, in short bursts. Over time, they get good at it.

The goals:

In the short-term, meditation helps kids segue from more-active pursuits (e.g. recess) into less-active ones (e.g. reading). In the long-term, kids become able to control their elephants more easily.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

Kids, sitting at desks and on the floor, meditating, while a teacher leads them.

Some specific questions:

  • What curriculum already exists for this? Is there a "best practices" curriculum for meditation?
  • What specific religious objections should we be prepared to work around?
  • What specific types of meditation should we engage? (Mindfulness meditation? Lovingkindness meditation?)
  • Is it possible to link meditation to any of the other subjects? (Art? Literature? Science? Math?)
  • Is there an app for this? Are there ways to help kids do this individually, or in small groups?
  • When should this be done in the school day? (Before/after what sort of activities?)

A school for ADHD


Cure ADHD? We want to harness it. An emerging view of ADHD has been slowly gaining traction — that ADHD, for all its real troubles, is a superpower. Yesterday the Times ran an opinion piece by Richard A. Friedman, "A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D." The gist:

Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

Research psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman put it even better. He's the author of the quite-good book Ungifted, and was on NPR's The Takeaway a few days ago to talk about the innovative and creative powers of ADHD. Quoth Kaufman:

You could conceptualize people with the ADHD label as explorers—imagine being an explorer trapped in an educational classroom where the teacher is saying, ‘Pay attention to me and don’t explore.’ It drives them nuts.

A crucial twist: let's grant that being an explorer is a superpower. It also kind of sucks.

The need to keep moving? The disposition of experiencing the ordinary world as dull dull dull? Drah! Most gifts, of course, have their underside, and ADHD is no exception.

So I spoke a little too glibly when I suggested that we want to harness ADHD rather than fix it: what we want to do is make use of some traits of ADHD while reducing its destructive by-products.


A number of ways, actually — I'll be posting more on them by and by. Among our strategies:

    • Our curriculum will be wonder-filled, crammed with interesting stories and questions that pull students in. (This, for those keeping score at home, is the Imaginative Education component part of our school.)
    • Our school day will be scattered with physical activity. (Movement — certain sorts in particular — eases concentration.)
    • Our classrooms will give students choice and agency. (This is the Montessori component of our school.)
    • Our community will practice mindfulness meditation, sometimes in unusual ways.
    • Finally, our classes will (probably) offer targeted training of executive functioning, more as these activities are conclusively demonstrated to reduce some of the negative impacts of ADHD at the roots.

One final thing: we're not making this a school only for kids with ADHD. Goodness, that would be a terrible thing — we want a school of neurodiversity.

There are many ways to be human. ADHD is one of them.

And understanding that might be a good way for a "school of humans" to move forward.